What is a panic disorder

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or  fear.

A panic attack is a sudden and often unexpected onset of intense fear that is a misplaced,  physical manifestation of the “fight-or-flight” response. Generally, panic attacks are accompanied by several of the below symptoms. The symptoms can be physical or cognitive (relating to mental processing).

The psychological disorders include depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. Some of the medical conditions include chronic pain, chronic fatigue, heart disease, acid reflux, asthma, sleep apnea, arthritis, and hormonal imbalances. Additionally, many medications have insomnia as a possible side effect.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or stomachache
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Choking sensation

Cognitive symptoms include:

  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy
  • A feeling of being detached from one’s body (depersonalization)
  • A feeling of being detached from your surroundings (derealization). 

The symptoms of a panic attack usually peak within ten minutes – though they can last up to 30  minutes. Those who are unaware they are experiencing panic may end up in the emergency  room for fear of a heart attack. Panic attacks lead to a panic disorder when the attacks are  recurrent and the individual develops anticipatory anxiety of upcoming attacks. This  anticipation often leads to avoidance of places or activities that the sufferer fears might trigger  a panic attack.

Panic disorders are treated with psychotherapy and/or medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy  (known as CBT) customized for panic disorder is typically the therapy of choice.

Though panic disorders can cause tremendous impairments in one’s life, it is very treatable with  the appropriate mental health professional who is experienced with this diagnosis.